Research shows that the Great Lakes region may be a global leader in the carbon offset market

Michigan, the Great Lakes region and bi-national St. Lawrence could become world leaders in the high-quality voluntary carbon offsets market with up to $783 billion in revenue by 2050, according to new research.

Scientists at the University of Michigan studied the potential of the Great Lakes region and St. Lawrence to become a center for carbon capture, utilization and storage. They found that the region could provide 52 billion tons of environmentally sound carbon storage through both natural and engineered solutions, such as injecting pressurized liquid carbon dioxide underground or even permanently bonding it into precast concrete.

For comparison, the region has already retired 130 million tons of carbon credits as of 2020, which is a tiny fraction of what is possible.

According to the researchers, this potentially massive carbon storage capacity – as much as 52 Gt – is sufficient to store 100% of the region’s emissions for years to come, with room to generate billions in regional revenue from the global voluntary carbon offset market.

The University of Michigan has kind of created a really good standard for what can lead to quality compensation. So, if there are reparations in the area, what can be done to make sure that they stick and deliver on those promises that they intend to deliver on,” said Mike Piskur, director of the Great Lakes Program and St. Lawrence Governors and premier of the intergovernmental organization, which asked this study.

Carbon offsetting aims to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to offset greenhouse gas emissions that are produced elsewhere. Carbon emissions lead to global warming through the greenhouse effect, exacerbating climate crises.

Offsets can either involve reforestation or the designation of forested land to capture carbon dioxide through the natural process of photosynthesis, or it can be made through engineered carbon capture technologies.

The researchers said that these technologies are constantly improving and becoming more economical.

“There are already many processes available today to capture carbon from the air from the chimney. Of course, plants capture carbon on their own. They don’t need any help, no technology needed. So, there are already a lot of technologies available and more to come,” said Susan Fancy. , director of the Research and Marketing Program at UM’s Global Carbon Dioxide Initiative.

“New technologies coming will help us reduce the cost. The challenge with carbon capture is that it is not on a large scale yet.”

The latest study found that despite the vast area of ​​forests across the region, the vast majority of the region’s carbon storage capacity comes from subterranean geological formations. Captured carbon can be injected underground through oil and gas or waste disposal wells.

But the researchers said it was critical to identify high-quality carbon storage methods to ensure that emissions offsets had the intended effect on the atmosphere, and were not greenwashing, or misleading about their environmental benefit. Offsets should only be used to account for emissions that cannot be completely eliminated.

“We don’t want geological storage to enable long-term fossil fuel use and that’s not the point at all. So, it’s a phased solution. We need to cut our emissions as fast as we can. And obviously it’s going to take some time until we can build all renewables and low Carbon,” Fancy said.

“While we’re building all of these things, carbon capture and storage underground, is practical to help us cut emissions as quickly as possible to avoid those worst impacts of climate change.”

Scientists estimate that governments, companies and other groups may pursue up to 10 gigatonnes of carbon removal globally each year until 2050, followed by 20 gigatonnes per year for 50 years after that.

The St. Lawrence Great Lakes region currently produces 1.5 gigatonnes of carbon emissions annually.

The study figures did not include the carbon storage potential of depleted oil and gas reservoirs, estimated at between 1.8 gigatonnes and 5.3 gigatonnes.

The researchers recommend that US states in the region with significant geological potential for storing carbon dioxide should apply to the Federal Environmental Protection Agency for authority to regulate this type of activity.

The study’s authors also suggest that state and regional agencies should coordinate with so-called “hard-to-mitigate industries” such as iron and steel, cement and other industry sectors. Driving emissions to net zero for these types of companies by 2050 is not expected to be possible, the scientists said, so they will need this kind of offsetting opportunity to mitigate emissions.

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